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The time ‘Britain’s hardest man’ ran from West Ham football hooligans!

West Ham’s Inter City Firm (ICF) has long been synonymous with football hooligans, and made more famous by the 2005 film Green Street. Here’s the tale of how the notorious firm once scared off Britain’s hardest man!

Although hooliganism in football is certainly nothing to be proud of, fans of the modern game can’t help but look back in awe at the scenes that were all too familiar on match days of the 70s & 80s. The shocking battles between rival firms would often be found both in and outside of stadiums, and usually both before and after the match.

Violence ran riot throughout these decades of football, with police forces lacking the suitable technology and organisation required to stem it before it started. Almost everyone has a Father, Grandad or Uncle who has a tale or two about ‘the good old days’ of British football.

Football hooligan 1980s
An example of football hooligan violence in the 1980s. Image credit: The Mirror

It’s hardly a surprise, with how widespread the issue was across the country, that huge efforts were made by authorities to put a stop to it. As surveillance, crowd control, and identification technologies developed (many for the specific cause of dealing with football violence), police forces were finally able to make retrospective arrests for crimes committed on match days.

Specialist units, such as the United Kingdom Football Policing Unit (UKFPU), were also created, with specific tactics designed around stopping football violence before it began. Nowadays, the UKFPU also distributes information to relevant police forces across the country concerning problem fans or previous offenders, allowing them to prepare for the specific challenge ahead of them on match day.

Police football hooligans
Police forces are more prepared to handle football hooligans in the modern game. Image credit: Punch Newspapers

The tale of ‘Britain’s hardest man’ running for his life from West Ham’s ICF can be found in a book by a former East End mobster, Danny Woollard, titled ‘Wild Cats’. The man in this particular tale being Lenny Mclean, a notorious bare knuckle boxer and criminal underworld figure who touted the title of ‘Britain’s toughest man’.

Lenny Mclean football hooligan
Lenny Mclean was a notorious figure in bare knuckle boxing and underground circles. Image credit: The Mirror

Woollard writes “Lenny McLean and a few very large men started to give this drunken youth a good kicking.

“Barry Dalton and Billy Williams stopped it. Bill dragged this young man out, but unbeknown to anyone, ‘The Bomb’ set about this chap and gave him a proper hiding.

“Once the boy had regained consciousness, he started ringing his mates up. He was a member of West Ham’s notorious Inter City Firm.”

“They all came, motor-loads of them, tooled up and looking for revenge.

“Roy Shaw, McLean, Williams, Carrington, Mickey Rourke and all the actors ran like scared rabbits to the club house, Woody’s, and locked themselves safely away. The Inter City Firm smashed the place to pieces.

“If they could have got hold of Billy Williams they would have killed him – quite deservedly, I thought, as he had taken a terrible liberty.”

West Ham Football Hooligans
West Ham’s notorious football hooligans, Inner City Firm (ICF). Image credit: d avers E13

Woollard goes on to explain how he gave up boxing promoting for a while after the incident, to allow things to “let things quieten down for a while”.

Whilst it’s for the best that this dark age in football’s history stays in the past, it is always fascinating to gain an insight into just how brutal firm violence used to be in the sport.

Sadly, fan violence still lives on in the modern game, with examples such as Tamworth vs Nuneaton seeing matches called off to to football hooligan activity.